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Down on the Farm – Jays milb Thoughts – July 20, 2011

July 21, 2011

DSL Jays – Well, it had to happen sometime. Tyro LHP Jairo Labourt (2 IP, 5 H, 4 R (3 ER), 0 BB, 0 K, 1 HBP) finally gave up the first earned runs of his career. In his first 23 innings before this game, he had allowed 5 runs, all unearned. remember, the further down the minor league ladder you go, the sloppier the defense gets. And there is no lower on that ladder than the DSL – in terms of talent on the field as well as standard of the playing field and even extending to the umpiring and scorekeeping. In fact, the box scores from the DSL can be very deceiving in this regard. All that said, teh recipient of a $350,000 signing bonus has impressed in his age-17 season.

GCL Jays – Only a few hours after applauding his first career home run, SS Dickie Joe Thon (2-3, HR (2), 2 RBI, R, E) went yard again in the 1st inning of this day’s game. There is only so much to be gleaned from low-level minor league batting orders, but it stands to reason that, hitting 3rd in the GCL lineup, his managers see him as a potential offensive talent. A question on my mind about Thon has to do with his future growth potential. Specifically, his father, who in 1983 looked to be one of the game’s emerging star shortstops. was listed at 5-11″, 160. Young Dickie Joe is already listed at 6-2″, 185. I would guess that his bloodlines portend to his ability to remain athletic going forward. Now that he’s found a power stroke, the hope must be that he does not tangibly change his approach as can occur to the newly powerful.

Since busting out like gangbusters in his professional debut (3 innings of one hit, shutout ball with 4 Ks) Latin-phenom RHP Adonys Cardona (3.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 HR) has struggled, posting a 7.07 ERA across his next 14 innings ,with a 13/6 K/BB rate. To his credit, he is still keeping the ball on the ground, the two homers here notwithstanding. All to his credit is his age. At 17, the two long balls he surrendered today (the first two of his career) were to players 21 and 20 years old. The next goal for Cardona must be showing the ability to respond to adversity in this game of constant failure.

Bluefield Blue Jays – Two of my primary goals in this series are to 1) temper enthusiasm about long-shot prospects putting up good numbers in the lower levels and 2) to avoid writing off genuine talent after poor outings in the development process. Bluefield, seemingly using a tandem pitching system (teaming up two pitchers who take turns starting the game and picking up in the middle) had pitchers who met both areas today. Getting the ball rolling as the Bluefield offense scored 16 runs in the first 5 innings was LHP Myles Jaye (5 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K). While the $250,000 he received last year to forego college was great money for a 17th round draft choice, in the grand scheme of the draft bonus world, it’s relatively marginal. On the map, but not a major population centre, to stretch a worn-out metaphor. A relative unknown, the lean lefty (6-3″, 170) is fly-ball prone (0.96 ground-out/air-out ratio), but he hasn’t surrendered any long flies in his last 4 outings. He’s only allowed 1 run in his last 14 innings, but he still is far back on the depth chart of the next pitcher.

We worried when he was shellacked in his first outing of the season and began to worry when his second outing showed only marginal improvements (from brutal to just bad). 9 innings fo 4-hit shutout ball in his next two outings sent sweet relief to some and then RHP Aaron Sanchez (1.2 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 1 K, 1 HR) had to ruin it all by pitching again today. It’s a good reminder as to why Alex Anthopoulos seems to overload on talented young arms whenever he can. Who among you joined me in wonder during this past draft when AA selected pitcher after pitcher? Did you also wonder if he would ever pick up a catcher to work with them? One of these days I’ll write about Aaron Munoz, just for that reason alone. Sanchez won’t be as good  as those two previous performances, nor as bad as today and those first two appearances. We don’t yet know where in that spectrum he’ll land, but the tools are there.

Vancouver Canadians – Not a game for the prospect hounds today, so instead of another blurb about Stephen McQuail, or Shane Optiz (2 singles each), I can throw a few words in the direction of Thunder Bay, Ontario native, and recent graduate of the local University of British Columbia, RHP Eric Brown (2.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K). How local, you ask? Both UBC and the Vancouver Canadians call 6,500 seat Nat Bailey Stadium home. It shouldn’t take much to help Brown become acclimated to the pro game. Before this game, his control has been spotty, walking 5 through 7.1 innings. The 10 accompanying strikeouts kept that number tolerable, though. As the Jays’ final selection (50th round) of this year’s draft, it might seem as if Brown was taken as an afterthought, maybe a cynical ploy to help fill the seats at Nat Bailey. At 22 years of age, Brown is well back of the pack, but once that door is open, everything else is in the hands of the player.

Lansing Lugnuts – For the 3rd game in a row, RF Michael Crouse (3-5, HR (12), 2 RBI, 3 R, 3 SB) went yard. Last time I wondered how many of his home runs were hit off of legitimate prospects, those seen by their organizations to be worth the investment needed for starting. As there do not seem to be splits pertaining to damage against SP/RP available for the minors, I did some digging. Without further ado, here are all of Michael Crouse’s home runs this season:

# Date/Opposition                       Opposing Pitcher                  S/R             Pitcher pedigree

1 Apr. 10 @ West Michigan      RHP Clemente Mendoza      R                Latin Signee, 5th year pro (20 yrs. Old), 1st time in full season ball – since demoted

2 Apr. 25 vs. Great Lakes          RHP Logan Bawcom              R                17th round, 2010 draft. 22 years old, 1st exposure to fulls eason ball. Since promoted.

3 Apr. 29 @ West Michigan      RHP Richard Zumaya           R               43rd round, 2007 draft. 22 years old, 2nd year in Low A. Since released by organization.

4 May 4 @ Fort Wayne               RHP Deiber Sanchez              R               Latin signee, 4th year pro. First year in full season ball. 22 years old.

5 May 8 vs Lake County             RHP Clayton Ehlert                R               undrafted free agent signee, 2010. 23 years old. 1st season at level.

6 Jun. 19 @ Dayton                     RHP Kyle Lotzkar                    S               Supp. 1st round, 2007 draft. 22 years old. Missed most of career due to injury. HR here in only 2nd game of season.

7 Jul. 2 @ Great Lakes               LHP Ryan Christenson          S               7th round pick, 2010, 22 years old. 1st full season.

8 Jul. 6 vs West Michigan         LHP Logan Hoch                     R              30th round pick, 2010, 24 years old. 1st full season.

9 Jul. 7 vs West Michigan         RHP Patrick Cooper               R              14th round pick, 2010, closing in on his 22nd birthday. 1 st full season.

10 Jul. 17 @ Clinton                   RHP Tyler Blandford             R              6th round pick, 2009, second time at level. 23 years old.

11 Jul. 18 @ Clinton                    RHP Matthew Bischoff          R              20th round pick, 2010, newly promoted to level. 24 years old.

12 Jul 20 vs Wisconsin              RHP Stosh Wawrzasek          R               16th round pick, 2008 draft. 20 years old. 4th year pro, 1st year at level.

S/R stands for starter or reliever. So, of the 12 home runs hit by Crouse so far this season, 10 have been hit off of relief pitchers. Crouse’s 31/37 stolen base success rate is definitely impressive. 12 home runs suggests that he has raw power. The fact that the overwhelming majority have been hit off of non-prospect organizational arms (the one true prospect, Lotzkar, has had his career seriously held back due to a series of serious injuries (say that 7 times fast). I really need to see Crouse doing it against better competition before I can believe. Because I want to believe, I really do. But I can’t yet. I do realize that my theory can be poked at. I am not comparing this to any other low level power hitters as the research time is not yet available to me. If this trend keeps up, I will make that comparison. Until then, I simply can’t believe that Low A starters are only surrendering 1/6 of Low A home runs.

Dunedin Blue Jays – Taken in a draft position that indicates very tempered, but not non-existent, expectations, C/3B/1B/DH Sean Ochinko (3-5, 2 2B, 2 R, K) has shown a glimmer of the value he might one day have at a higher level, if for no other reason than is unique versatility. It’s one thing to play behind the plate as well as 1B. Ochinko has hit a bit of a wall in his first taste of High-A. His strikeout rate has risen a notch (from 14.1% last year with Lansing to 16.2% so far this year) as a direct drawback from his leap forward in in-game power (ISO has risen from .148 to .181 largely due to big numbers against lefties) while his isolated patience (OBP-AVG) has also improved drastically from .049 to .069. He is not viewed as a good catcher, but good enough to be of use in a backup role further up the professional ladder.

It is also due time for an obligatory update on the progress of the long and winding road of rehab for RHP Dustin McGowan (2.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K). He still hasn’t completed 3 innings in any outing, totaling 9.2 innings over 5 appearances. His control has been spotty (6 BB), but according to photos posted by Bill Christie of the Dunedin Patch, his chops have survived McGowan’s extended absence. It’s hard to say much of use about his raw stuff pitching as he is to kids not long out of the amateur ranks, so it is best not to get too caught up in results unless and until the Jays move him up to New Hampshire or Las Vegas. Just being able to see his name in a box score is nice for now.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – RF Moises Sierra (2-4, HR (15), 2 RBI, R) is a lot of things, but one thing he is not is a base stealer. That is, he tries – oh, how hard he tries – but it just isn’t in his skill set. This year he has successfully swiped 10 bags, but was caught red-handed and lead-footed 10 other times. Last year, limited as he was by injury to 10 games, was a write-off. But in 2009 he was actually decent, succeeding in 10 of 13 attempts  mostly in Dunedin. Then again, playing in Lansing in 2008, Sierra barely broke .500, stealing 12 in 23 attempts. To further confound matters, he was 17-3 in his debut season back in the DSL. The right-handed batter has been more successful against lefties (.903 OPS) than same-sided pitchers (.903). He’s not a perfect player by any means, but the Jays’ braintrust may have made the right call in adding Sierra to the 40-man roster this past offseason. Now healthy, he is putting up his best season (by way of OPS – .795 entering this game) in a full season across his career.

In many ways similar to yesterday’s featured AA starter, Chad Jenkins, RHP Henderson Alvarez (7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K) strikes out too few for comfort among the statistically inclined. The question asked more frequently by pundits about Alvarez is why, with a 100 mph (reported as reaching 98 mph in this game) fastball and an advanced changeup, is he only striking out 6.4/9 innings. This is nothing new for Alvarez, not a by-product of his first experience in the high minors. Last season, pitching for Dunedin, he averaged 6.2 K/9. In 2009, for Lansing, he was up at  6.7 K/9. He does limit baserunners very well, though. From 2009 to the present, his hits allowed per 9 innings marks were 8.8, 11 and 7.7 respectively (I think I know which season was the outlier there), while his walk rates over that same stretch were 1.4, 2.2 and 2.0. He has a very healthy groundball rate, but can be homer prone – a boon for many changeup artists – when the ball drops late it rises fast. After all that, 100 mph is 100 mph. If the results can match the stuff, in the eyes of Keith Law, Alvarez could be a #1.

Las Vegas 51s – During a recent Jays’ game, Alex Anthopoulos sat in the broadcast for two half innings with Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler, discussing, among other things, the state of the franchise. Among the prospects discussed was 3B Brett Lawrie (3-5, 2B, 2 RBI, 3 R, E) at that time just about to begin his rehab assignment from a broken hand in Dunedin. Anthopoulos’ main hope for Lawrie as expressed in that conversation was that the rehab would go smoothly and Lawrie would be back on the precipice of a promotion to The Show in no time. His time in Dundein was spent getting the feel of game speed again, and getting nailed repeatedly by inside pitches around the same place as the pitch that sidelined him for 6 weeks in the first place. He must have learned an important lesson from that pitch in May, because he escaped these pitches unscathed. In his first 2 games back in Vegas, Lawrie went 0-7 with 5 Ks. In this game, Lawrie showed that his stroke was back. Now we wait and see if Anthopoulos’ hopes can be realized.

Although his MLB performance may have been at its highest level since 2008, RHP Jesse Litsch (7 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 2 HR) was still only performing at a level that could be seen as decent for a 5th starter. At 26, this is close to as good as it will get for the player called Ginger Beard Man. I won’t insult his abilities by suggesting that his horrendous stats in Vegas are what is keeping him down. What I will say is that Litsch and Jo-Jo Reyes (also 26 years old) have pitched to similar enough results at the MLB level this year and Litsch has an option left, while Reyes does not. Litsch does not have an out pitch and his fastball generally sits in the unassuming range of 89-92. Reyes throws just a wee bit harder and he does it with his left arm, which is an asset in and of itself. SO a few days ago, when Litsch’s rehab ended, instead of returning to from whence he came, teh Jays decided t leave him in Las Vegas, and optioned him to the farm. The question is, in case an injury strikes an MLB starter, would Litsch now get the call ahead of Brad Mills? Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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